Washington, DC Metropolitan Police detective Temple McFadden is on his way to the B&O Railroad station where he plans to meet with a Negro friend Augustus and another friend, this one of more questionable honor, named Pint. The country is still reeling from the recent assassination of President Lincoln, and the streets are teeming with soldiers drunk on victory. Passions run high, the hangover from a long, bloody war and the freeing of slaves in the South. Danger lurks everywhere in the chaotic aftermath.
"THE LINCOLN CONSPIRACY does a superb job of mixing historical fact with bold speculation.... All in all, a fine historical mystery."
While Temple is keeping a lookout for Augustus and Pint, he sees a petty criminal named Stump literally cut down before his eyes. Since Temple takes his job seriously, even if hardly anyone else in the District does, he jumps into the fray without a second thought. Murder cannot be tolerated. In addition, Temple had observed that Stump appeared to be hiding a package, and decides that he needs to take custody of it. Unfortunately, Stump’s killers are determined to have it, too --- at any cost. Temple gets his hands on it first, and a high-speed horse chase ensues, leaving bodies strewn along the avenue. He narrowly escapes with his life. It might have been a tidier getaway had he had the use of two good legs, but an accident at an Irish orphanage as a lad left him with a painful limp.
Now he’s on the run. Temple’s pursuers are many and pitiless, and they have little in the way of scruples. However, Temple has a reputation for toughness, along with his keen sense of justice. His father saw to that, and helped him turn his disability into an asset. McFadden despises guns, so he refuses to carry one, instead employing the use of his cane as a surprisingly effective weapon.
Then there is McFadden’s wife, Fiona, who is equally resourceful. An independent and forward-thinking woman, Fiona has developed an interest in medicine and herbal remedies. Now, she can use her knowledge to save lives or to end them.
Once Temple and his supporters have found a safe place, they examine the package Temple took off of Stump’s body. They discover it contains Mary Todd Lincoln’s private diary, along with the diary of John Wilkes Booth, most entries in code. They believe the code is being used to conceal the identities of Booth’s co-conspirators. We all thought we knew what happened that fateful night at Ford’s Theater, but this little leather book may throw a new light on it. Many more people could be implicated, and the scheme may turn out to be far larger than anyone imagined.
A cast of patriotic Americans keeping the papers secreted include historical figures whose names are familiar to us. Sojourner Truth is involved, as is Allen Pinkerton --- who may actually be working on behalf of his own best interests. The opposition boasts some famous names, too.
THE LINCOLN CONSPIRACY does a superb job of mixing historical fact with bold speculation. What might have really happened? Timothy O’Brien’s husband-and-wife team proves a unique one. Fiona has more moxie than the majority of 19th-century women, and Temple’s aversion to firearms sets him apart from the majority of his contemporaries. All in all, a fine historical mystery.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on October 5, 2012